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OLR Research Report


January 21, 2009

 

2009-R-0018

LAWS GOVERNING U.S. SENATE VACANCIES

By: Kristin Sullivan, Associate Analyst

You asked for a summary of laws governing filling a U.S. Senate vacancy in Connecticut and other states.

SUMMARY

Laws in 34 states, including Connecticut, require the governor to appoint a replacement to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy. Laws in three states (Hawaii, Utah, and Wyoming) require the governor to make a temporary appointment, who serves until the next regularly-scheduled general election, chosen from a list of three prospective appointees that the prior incumbent's political party submits. Finally, laws in 13 states have provisions for holding a special election to fill the remainder of the unexpired term. Some of these states require a special election regardless of when the vacancy occurs, while others base the requirement on the schedule for the next regular general election. Others have provisions authorizing, but not requiring, the governor to call a special election.

The attached document, compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides each state's law (see ATTACHMENT 1).

GUBERNATORIAL APPOINTMENT STATES

In 34 states, the governor makes an appointment to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy until the next regularly-scheduled general election. At that point, a candidate is elected and serves for the remainder of the unexpired term, if any. Table 1 lists the states where the governor appoints a U.S. Senate vacancy replacement.

Table 1: States Where Governor Makes Appointment to Fill

U.S. Senate Vacancy

Arizona

Iowa

Montana

Pennsylvania

Colorado

Kansas

Nebraska

Rhode Island

Connecticut

Kentucky

Nevada

South Carolina

Delaware

Maine

New Hampshire

South Dakota

Florida

Maryland

New Mexico

Tennessee

Georgia

Michigan

New York 1

Virginia 1

Idaho

Minnesota 1

North Carolina

West Virginia

Illinois

Mississippi

North Dakota

 

Indiana

Missouri

Ohio

 

SOURCE: NCSL

1 The special election must be held the following November if the vacancy occurs at least six weeks before the regular primary in Minnesota (59 days in New York; 120 days in Virginia); otherwise, it must be held the next following November (an odd-numbered year).

Connecticut's Law

By law, the governor has the authority to appoint a successor if a vacancy occurs in the office of U. S. senator. If the vacancy occurs 150 or more days before a state election, the appointee serves until the January 3 after the election. In that case, an election to fill the balance of the term, if any, is held at the time of the state election. If the vacancy occurs less than 150 days before a state election and the vacating senator's term would have expired January 3, the appointee serves only until that day. If the vacancy occurs less than 150 days before a state election and the term would not have expired, the appointee serves until the state election two years hence when an election to fill the balance of the term, if any, is held (CGS 9-211).

This method for filling U.S. Senate vacancies differs from that for filling the vacancy for a representative in Congress. In that case, the governor issues writs of election to the town clerks in the district, ordering the date for a special election to be held to fill the seat (CGS 9-212).

SPECIAL ELECTION STATES

Laws in 13 states require or authorize a special election to fill the unexpired term of a U.S. senator. Of these, 10 allow the governor to make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy until the results of the special election are certified. Table 2 lists the states requiring or authorizing a special election, indicates in which the governor makes a temporary appointment, and provides the time period within which the election occurs.

Table 2: States that Fill a U.S. Senate Vacancy by Special Election

State

Temporary Gubernatorial Appointment?

Special Election Schedule

Alabama

Yes

If the vacancy occurs more than four months before the general election, the governor must immediately order the election of a candidate for the unexpired term. If the vacancy occurs between four months and 60 days before the general election, the vacancy is filled at that general election. If the vacancy occurs within 60 days before the general election, the governor orders a special election to be held on the first Tuesday after the lapse of 60 days after the day on which the vacancy is known to the governor.

Alaska

Yes

Between 60 and 90 days following the vacancy

Arkansas

Yes

Within 120 days following the vacancy, but only if no regular general election will occur within 12 months after the vacancy; if a regular general election will occur within 12 months, no special election is held and a candidate is elected at the general election

California

Yes

Vacancy may be filled at a special or general election. No schedule specified.

Louisiana

Yes

If the unexpired term is more than one year, governor must issue the special election proclamation within 10 days following the vacancy and the special election is held in February, April, October, or November, depending on when the vacancy occurs

Massachusetts

No

Between 145 and 160 days following the vacancy

New Jersey

Yes

Law authorizes governor to call for a special election, in which case there is no schedule specified. Otherwise, vacancy is filled at first or second succeeding general election, depending on when it occurs.

Oklahoma

Yes1

Within 30 days following vacancy, unless vacancy occurs after March 1 in an even-numbered year, in which case no special election is held and a candidate is elected at the next regular general election

Table 2: -Continued-

State

Temporary Gubernatorial Appointment?

Special Election Schedule

Oregon

No

Not specified for vacancies occurring before the 61st day before a general election; “as soon as practicable” for vacancies occurring after the 62nd day before the general election, but on or before the general election

Texas

Yes

If a vacancy occurs during an odd-numbered year or after the 62nd day before the general election in an even-numbered year, the remainder of the unexpired term is filled by special election. If the governor declares the special election to be an “emergency election,” it is held on a Tuesday or Saturday on or after the 36th day and before the 50th day after the date the election is ordered, otherwise it occurs at a general election.

Vermont

Yes

Within three months following vacancy, unless the vacancy occurs within six months of a general election, in which case it is filled at the general election

Washington

Yes

Within 90 days of the day when the governor issues writs of election, which he or she must do within 10 days following vacancy; if the vacancy occurs within 6 months of the general election, it is filled at the general election

Wisconsin

No

Not specified, unless vacancy occurs between the 2nd Tuesday in May and the 2nd Tuesday in July in an even year, in which case the vacancy is filled at the regular primary and general elections

1 Governor “appoints” candidate who wins the next general election to fill the vacancy until the start of his or her term.

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